WASHINGTON A staggering 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimers disease or other types of dementia, says a new report that highlights the impact the mind-destroying disease is having on the rapidly aging population.
Dying with Alzheimers is not the same as dying from it. But even when dementia isnt the direct cause of death, it can be the final blow speeding someones decline by interfering with their care for heart disease, cancer or other serious illnesses. Thats the assessment of the recent report released by the Alzheimers Association, which advocates for more research and support for families afflicted by it.
Exacerbated aging, is how Dr. Maria Carrillo, an association vice president, terms the Alzheimers effect. It changes any health-care situation for a family.
In fact, only 30 percent of 70-year-olds who dont have Alzheimers are expected to die before their 80th birthday. But if they do have dementia, 61 percent are expected to die, the report found.
Already, 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimers or some other form of dementia. Those numbers will jump to 13.8 million by 2050, Tuesdays report predicts. Thats slightly lower than some previous estimates.
Count just the deaths directly attributed to dementia, and theyre growing fast. Nearly 85,000 people died from Alzheimers in 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in a separate report Tuesday. Those are people who had Alzheimers listed as an underlying cause on a death certificate, perhaps because the dementia led to respiratory failure. Those numbers make Alzheimers the sixth leading cause of death.
That death rate rose 39 percent in the last decade, even as the CDC found that deaths declined among some of the nations other top killers heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. The reason: Alzheimers is the only one of those leading killers to have no good treatment. Todays medications only temporarily ease some dementia symptoms.
But whats on a death certificate is only part of the story.
Consider: Severe dementia can make it difficult for people to move around or swallow properly. That increases the risk of pneumonia, one of the most commonly identified causes of death among Alzheimers patients.
Likewise, dementia patients can forget their medications for diabetes, high blood pressure or other illnesses. They may not be able to explain they are feeling symptoms of other ailments such as infections. Theyre far more likely to be hospitalized than other older adults. That in turn increases their risk of death within the next year.
You should be getting a sense of the so-called blurred distinction between deaths among people with Alzheimers and deaths caused by Alzheimers. Its not so clear where to draw the line, said Jennifer Weuve of Chicagos Rush University, who helped study that very question.
The Chicago Health and Aging Project tracked the health of more than 10,000 older adults over time. Weuves team used the data to estimate how many people nationally will die with Alzheimers this year about 450,000, according to Tuesdays report.
Thats compatible with the 1 in 3 figure the Alzheimers Association calculates for all dementias. That number is based on a separate analysis of Medicare data that includes both Alzheimers cases and deaths among seniors with other forms of dementia.
Last year, the Obama administration set a goal of finding effective Alzheimers treatments by 2025, and increased research funding to help. Its not clear how the governments automatic budget cuts, which began earlier this month, will affect those plans.
But the report calculated that health and long-term care services will total $203 billion this year, much of that paid by Medicare and Medicaid and not counting unpaid care from family and friends. That tab is expected to reach $1.2 trillion by 2050, barring a research breakthrough, the report concluded.